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Ofwat has confirmed its approval of four regional water resource plans to advance past the first checkpoint of the Regulator’s Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID) scheme.

The four schemes to increase supply to Southern Water’s western region – including collaborations with Bristol, Wessex and Portsmouth – were provisionally approved in November.

Following an assessment by Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the Drinking Water Inspectorate, the final decision was made that all schemes could progress.

Due to abstraction licence chances to protect chalk streams in Hampshire, Southern is one year ahead of the rest of the water sector in the RAPID process.

Full expenditure was not approved for the desalination and water recycling projects because Ofwat said evidence of some parts of the spending were not clear. Ofwat said shortcomings were found in the completeness and quality of the submissions for which the regulator proposed a delivery incentive penalty of 10 per cent for Southern unless remedial actions are taken.

Southern was permitted ring-fenced funding at PR19 to develop solutions that would be in place and operated by the end of 2027 and it has been asked by Ofwat to provide assurances that its projects can be delivered on time.

The schemes are:

  • Desalination plant (Southern): The desalination plant in Hampshire could provide up to 75 million litres of water per day and would be the largest seawater desalination system in the UK.
  • Water recycling (Southern): An alternative to desalination that could also provide up to 75 million litres of water per day.
  • West Country North Sources (jointly proposed by Bristol, Wessex and Southern): A reservoir in Bristol’s area and transferred through Wessex’s area to Southern. This was the only scheme approved in November.
  • Raw water transfer from Portsmouth’s proposed Havant Thicket reservoir to Southern (jointly proposed by Southern and Portsmouth): This includes abstraction from the reservoir, a high lift pumping station and around a 40km pipeline to Southern’s Otterbourne treatment works.

For the desalination and water recycling schemes, Ofwat said some elements of the spending had not been clearly evidenced, not all were efficient, and therefore not all expenditure claimed should be allowed.

Despite the concerns the projects all moved past the first checkpoint.

David Black, chief regulation officer at Ofwat said: “The first checkpoint has highlighted some encouraging signs of collaboration and I am confident that the companies involved will continue to drive forward solutions that will secure resilient water supplies that will deliver benefits to customers, the environment and society as a whole.”

Simon Moody, deputy director at the EA said the progress was an important milestone for Southern to secure a water supply and protect the environment, particularly the chalk streams in Hampshire.

Milo Purcell, deputy chief inspector at the DWI echoed the support for the projects that are urgently needed to provide greater resilience for water supplies and improvements to the environment.

RAPID was established to enable the construction of large-scale water infrastructure projects by addressing any current barriers to development and encouraging collaborative working across regional boundaries.